As noted last week, the Church will observe a “Year of Faith” next year, which will coincide with a meeting of Church leaders in Rome to discuss the “new evangelization.”
The last so-called “Year of Faith” took place in 1967-68, at the request of Pope Paul VI. I don’t remember that “Year of Faith,” and I barely remember Pope Paul VI. But there are some things from that time that I do recall, which I think have some relevance to this new “Year of Faith” announced by Pope Benedict XVI.
I remember the year beginning with the Packers’ second straight Super Bowl victory and ending with Richard Nixon’s narrow victory over Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace (I was allowed to stay up late and watch the election coverage). I remember Bobby Kennedy being shot only a couple miles from my house and the rioting that accompanied the Democratic convention.
Mostly, though, I was a chubby third-grader at St. Elizabeth’s in Southern California, oblivious to most of what was going on in the world and in the Church. Whether I was playing kickball in the schoolyard or humming “Kumbaya” as I crafted nifty collages from magazine scraps, I was largely shielded from the cultural changes going on in our society, from the civil rights movement and Vietnam to Woodstock and women’s “liberation.”
On the whole, these were dark days for the Church. Today there’s the enthusiasm of the “new evangelization” and a significant influx of converts notwithstanding the scandals and other challenges. Back then, however, there were people jumping ship in unprecedented numbers. And not just priests and religious. All of us experienced the exodus of relatives, friends, and classmates from the Church.
Yet, amidst the turmoil, I think the “Year of Faith” planted seeds of hope for future generations.
One such seed was the issuance of the Credo of the People of God by Pope Paul VI at the conclusion of the “Year of Faith.” The publication of new, official expressions of the Catholic faith is a rare occurrence. Further, Pope Paul’s Credo (Latin for “I believe”) is much more detailed than the more familiar Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed.
Popes don’t issue documents such as this lightly or without a significant reason. In this case, Pope Paul VI saw the emerging crisis of faith in the West and tried to minimize its effects. In explaining why he was issuing his Credo, the Holy Father remarked that “many truths are being denied outright or made objects of controversy,” leading to “disturbance and doubt in many faithful souls.”
I’ve heard references to the “missing generation” created by the millions of abortions in this country in recent decades. But the prior generation—those of us who were raised in the 1960s and 70s—has largely been spiritually missing. A significant aspect of the new evangelization is to welcome this generation back into the Church. Pope Paul’s Credo, amplified and expanded 25 years later in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, reflects the Church’s renewed commitment in our day to proclaiming the person and teachings of Jesus Christ to our world.
And there’s the connection to our current “Year of Faith.” Pope Benedict made explicit this year’s connection to the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism, which is a magnificent synthesis of the faith of the Church–a faith that is both timeless and yet enriched by the insights of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and recent Popes.
Our work has only just begun when it comes to proclaiming and living the Gospel in an increasingly secularized world that wants us to keep our faith to ourselves (if at all). So this coming year of faith is going to challenge and stretch us as Catholics and as a Church in new and exciting ways.
I don’t pretend to know exactly what the “Year of Faith” is going to look like. Surely it beckons us to renewed conversion and prayer. I also suggest, by way of preparation for the “Year of Faith,” that we dust off our Catechisms of the Catholic Church and study our faith. In that regard, I think we can borrow the admonition to deacons in their ordination rite–to believe what we read, teach what we believe, and practice what we teach. If we strive to do that as a Church, we can expect the Lord to do great things in our midst!